Talismans are objects that possess magical or supernatural power of their own and transmit them to the owner. Talismans often are confused with Amulets, objects that protect their wearers from evil and harm. Talismans usually perform a single function and enable powerful transformations. The magic wand of a sorcerer or FAIry, king Arthur’s sword Excalibur, seven-league boots and mercury’s helmet of invisibility are all talismans.

A talisman can be any object, but in Magic can be endowed with supernatural power only by the forces of nature, by God or the gods or by being made in a ritualistic way. Precious stones have always been considered talismans, for example, each having its own magical or curative powers endowed by nature.

Talismans are universal in all periods of history. They were common in ancient Egypt and Babylonia, where they were used to try and alter the forces of nature. In the middle Ages, holy objects were valued as talismans for their ability to cure illness. Witches and thieves made talismans out of the severed hands of criminals (see hAnd oF glory).

Alchemists followed elaborate rituals to make talismans: they waited for auspicious astrological signs, then recited incantations to summon spirits who would imbue the talismans with power. The most sought-after talisman was the elusive Philosopher’s Stone, which alchemists believed would transform base metals into gold and silver.

The grimoires offer instructions for making talismans of engravings upon stones or parchment under auspicious astrological signs. There are talismans for making fortunes, winning in gambling, preventing sudden death, improving memory and even making good speeches.

Catherine de’ Medici, queen consort of Henry II of France, always carried with her a talisman that was a medal allegedly made from metals that had been melted together under astrologically favourable signs, plus human and he-goat blood. The original was broken upon her death, but a copy exists in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. One side of the medal is engraved with the god Jupiter, the eagle of Ganymede and a Demon with the head of the Egyptian god, Anubis; the other side bears a Venus figure believed to be Catherine, which is flanked by the names of Demons. The queen believed the talisman conferred upon her clairvoyance and sovereign power.


  • Cavendish, Richard, ed. The Encyclopedia of the Unexplained. New York: mcGraw-Hill, 1974.
  • Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.


The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca – written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc.

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